by Kevin Shaw | photos by Joan Marcus
When it comes to performing in a musical these days, perhaps there’s no bigger or more challenging role than starring as Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) in the Broadway version or national tour of Wicked, which tells the tale of what happened before “The Wizard of Oz” began. Originated on Broadway by Idina Menzel, the role of Elphaba (a shout-out to and short for the American Author, L. Frank Baum of “The Wizard of Oz” fame) requires a powerhouse vocal range that few can master. In the current national tour coming to the Orpheum Theatre March 7-25, 2018, Mary Kate Morrissey (MK), an out and proud member of the LGBTQ community, plans to fly into Memphis and take this town by storm as the very green and misunderstood witch who was forced to take a more difficult path than her childhood friend, Galinda (the Good Witch). Morrissey, who was willing to take a break from lounging on the beach while on tour in Fort Lauderdale, FL, talked to Focus Magazine about her impending visit to Memphis.
Focus: When was the first time you ever saw Wicked?
MK: The first time I ever saw this show was on Broadway right after Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth had left. I was totally, madly in love with the show! I bought the cd and listened to it on my Walkman non-stop!
Focus: Were you already living in New York at the time?
MK: No, I was still in Catholic high school. I’m from a suburb in Philly.
Focus: When you first saw it, did you say to yourself, “One day, I’m going to be in this show playing the lead!”?
MK: When I saw it, I said to myself, “I don’t know how anybody can do that!” I couldn’t believe it. Then, I said to myself, “Let me try my hand at these school play things and see if I can do it.” I didn’t see the show again until many years later when I booked the standby (understudy) for Elphaba in the national tour. I immediately went back to the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway because I had to see the show, but I was so poor and I lost the lottery (a daily event in which a lottery is held for orchestra seats at a significantly reduced price), so I had to buy a $130 ticket which was so much money for me at the time. But, after I saw it a second time, I said to myself, “You know what? I can do this!”
Focus: So, you had never been in a musical before you saw Wicked for the first time?
MK: No, I was only 15 at the time.
Focus: You joined the national tour in 2016 as the standby for Elphaba. Do you remember the first time you went on?
MK: Yes. I went on in Denver and I don’t think I’ve ever been more frightened in my entire life! My parents flew in to see me, but I’ll never forget the altitude in Denver was crazy and this part is a hard enough to sing to begin with and then adding in the altitude was so terrifying. But, I remember coming off the stage and saying to myself, “I actually did that and people clapped and I didn’t die and I didn’t hurt anybody!”
Focus: How long are you currently contracted to do this tour?
MK: Right now, through the end of June, but you never know. I think I’ve proven to the producers that I can do this role on tour, so now, let’s go to Broadway!
Focus: That’s the goal? To do Broadway?
MK: Yeah. The dream is to do it with the girl who is playing Galinda right now (Claire Mason) with me on tour. I ask the Universe for that!
Ginna Claire Mason & Mary Kate Morrissey in Wicked
Focus: Is it harder to do this show 8 times a week than you expected?
MK: It’s harder in a different way. There’s a “Green Girl Sisterhood” (Previous Elphabas) and I’d been warned by them that there are multiple “seasons” when playing this role. For example, sometimes it’s really easy and fun and jubilant. But, then there are other times when it’s a struggle and a bit of a Hail Mary. So, there’s navigating that and also leading a company (it’s not just playing a part) and the energy of the show is dependent on me and the actress playing Galinda. I feel really lucky that my Galinda and I are “besties” and we both love doing the show so much. The show is so strong right now.
Focus: Do you still get nervous performing?
MK: I do still get nervous, like, Stephen Schwartz (Lyricist/Composer) is coming to the show next Tuesday and this will be the first time he’s seen me in the show. THAT makes me nervous!
Focus: So, let’s talk about the green makeup. How over that are you?
MK: It never completely comes off. Everyone always makes the same joke—“Oh, you’ve got a little bit of green on you…” Well, I’m painted green for a living. I’m always a little bit green. I’m tinted. Dating is terrible!
Focus: Did you make a conscious decision to make this character your own and different from Idina Menzel’s version?
MK: It’s difficult because her performance of the show is so iconic, so it’s hard to not pay homage to that, but at the same time, I am an Elphaba in my personal life. I know what it’s like to feel on the outside of stuff and “othered.” I know what it’s like to be looked at strangely and to be an activist who fights for things I believe in. I sometimes feel like I’m just playing myself, so I bring that first into the role.
Focus: What has made you feel like an outsider in your personal life?
MK: I’m a queer woman. I have dated people of color. My family is super religious and I grew up going to catholic schools, so things like that.
Focus: How do you use the word “queer?”
MK: I’ve been in very serious relationships with women, my ex is trans and I’ve dated men, so for me, my sexuality is fluid and changes with the person I fall in love with.
Focus: Is this different from identifying as pansexual or bisexual?
MK: Well, I’ve always been a little bit bi-phobic because, for me, bisexuality didn’t really make sense due to the binary of man or woman. Gender doesn’t really matter to me—I’m attracted to non-binary people. I don’t use the term “pansexual” because I prefer the term “queer” as a way of “pushing back” and activism. I really identify with the queer activist community—those are my people–that’s where I belong!
Focus: So, are you dating someone now?
MK: Honestly, right now, I’m dating Elphaba! (Laughing) She takes up all my time and energy!
For tickets & details of show times/dates see below.
EVENT TYPE: Broadway
DESCRIPTION: So much happened before Dorothy dropped in. WICKED, the Broadway sensation, looks at what happened in the Land of Oz…but from a different angle. Long before Dorothy arrives, there is another young woman, born with emerald-green skin—smart, fiery, misunderstood, and possessing an extraordinary talent. When she meets a bubbly blonde who is exceptionally popular, their initial rivalry turns into the unlikeliest of friendships…until the world decides to call one “good,” and the other one “wicked.” From the first electrifying note to the final breathtaking moment, WICKED—the untold true story of the Witches of Oz—transfixes audiences with its wildly inventive story that USA Today cheers is “a complete triumph! An original musical that will make you laugh, cry, and think.”
VENUE: Orpheum Theatre, 203 S. Main Street, Memphis TN 38103
DATES: March 7-25, 2018
- Wednesday, March 7, 2018 7:30 PM
- Thursday, March 8, 2018 2:00 PM
- Thursday, March 8, 2018 7:30 PM
- Friday, March 9, 2018 8:00 PM
- Saturday, March 10, 2018 2:00 PM
- Saturday, March 10, 2018 8:00 PM
- Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:00 PM
- Sunday, March 11, 2018 6:30 PM
- Tuesday, March 13, 2018 7:30 PM
- Wednesday, March 14, 2018 7:30 PM
- Thursday, March 15, 2018 7:30 PM
- Friday, March 16, 2018 8:00 PM
- Saturday, March 17, 2018 2:00 PM
- Saturday, March 17, 2018 8:00 PM
- Sunday, March 18, 2018 1:00 PM
- Sunday, March 18, 2018 6:30 PM
- Tuesday, March 20, 2018 7:30 PM
- Wednesday, March 21, 2018 7:30 PM
- Thursday, March 22, 2018 7:30 PM
- Friday, March 23, 2018 8:00 PM
- Saturday, March 24, 2018 2:00 PM
- Saturday, March 24, 2018 8:00 PM
- Sunday, March 25, 2018 1:00 PM
- Sunday, March 25, 2018 6:30 PM
BOX OFFICE: 901.525.3000
GROUP SALES: 901.529.4226